Document Type



Medicine and Health Sciences


The current study was designed to examine event-related brain potentials and autonomic responses to pictures indicating threat, relative to non-threat, and acoustic startle reflexes in traumatized youth diagnosed with PTSD, relative to non-exposed children, before and after receiving psychotherapy. Children in the control group were individually yoked and demographically matched to the PTSD group. Both groups displayed enhanced late positive potentials and more prolonged heart rate deceleration to pictures indicating threat, relative to non-threat, and larger skin conductance responses to pictures indicating threat, relative to non-threat, at time one. At time two, controls appeared to habituate, as reflected by an overall attenuated skin conductance response, whereas the PTSD group showed little change. Across time points the PTSD group exhibited greater acoustic startle reflexes than the control group. Psychotherapy and symptom reduction was not associated with electrophysiology. Drawing from the adult literature, this study was an attempt to address the scarcity of research examining electrophysiological irregularities in childhood PTSD. The overall results suggest that children and adolescents allocate more attention to threat-related stimuli regardless of PTSD status, and exaggerated startle and a possible failure to habituate skin conductance responses to threat-related stimuli in youth with versus without PTSD.


Biol Psychol. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2013 April 1. Published in final edited form as: Biol Psychol. 2012 April; 90(1): 88–96. Published online 2012 March 2. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2012.02.015 PMCID: PMC3319483 NIHMSID: NIHMS361144